Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Shared Rhythm

Garrison Keillor, The Pleasures of Perfect Cadence:
Somehow Thoreau missed out on the pleasure of being in tempo. He never drilled with the Concord militia, and if he ever attended dances, he didn't mention it in his journal. And when he matriculated at Harvard in 1833, there was no marching band where he could've played his flute and learned how thrilling it is when 50 or 60 people hit the cadence, the bass drum going BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM and the snares setting up a back beat and the saxophones swinging back and forth and all the shoes going slapslapslapslap up the street — this is electrifying to the whole town and the populace lines the curbs to watch the parade go by. Rhythm, Henry — shared rhythm — is a powerful thing, compared to which your personal drummer who goes BOOMBOOMboinkBOOMboinkBOOMBOOM is a puny thing. So get over yourself, O Great One. Get with the program.
Thoreau may have marched to his own drumbeat, but he was perfectly capable of singing and dancing in time to someone else's piano accompaniment and so participating in "shared rhythm," as the following passage demonstrates, from F.B. Sanborn, Recollections of Seventy Years, vol. 2 (Boston: Richard G. Badger, The Gorham Press, 1909), pp. 397-398:
The Ricketsons said, when asked about the visit of Thoreau, Alcott, and Channing at their New Bedford house (Brooklawn) in April, 1857, that Thoreau sang and danced there to the accompaniment of Mrs. Ricketson's piano....As Mrs. R. struck up a lively Scotch air ("The Campbells are Comin'"), Thoreau felt moved to try a dance, and did so,—keeping time to the music perfectly, but executing some steps more like Indian dances than the usual ballroom figures. Anna was so amused at the sight, which she saw through the window, that she ran and called her father and Channing, who came and looked on,—Alcott sitting on the sofa, meanwhile, and watching the dance. Thoreau continued the performance for five or ten minutes; it was earnest and spontaneous, but not particularly graceful.

During this visit of 1857 Thoreau sang his two favorite pieces,—Moore's "Row, Brothers, Row," and Dibdin's "Tom Bowling,"—both of which, no doubt, reminded him of his brother John. Mrs. Ricketson accompanied him on the piano, and presently Anna procured for him the music of "Tom Bowling," which he had before sung by rote, with spirit and in good time, but not quite in tune, perhaps.
Note the descriptions "keeping time to the music perfectly" and "in good time."

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